A study led by Glasgow Caledonian University has revealed a 3% annual decline in mortality rates in urban areas close to canals that have undergone major transformation and regeneration.
The project, conducted in partnership with Scottish Canals and facilitated by The Data Lab, focused on the impact of regeneration along the Forth & Clyde Canal in North Glasgow, one of the most deprived areas in Europe.
Researchers found that investment in waterway regeneration initiatives could deliver long-term physical and mental health benefits for residents.
The study was designed to provide quantitative data that outlines the link between positive public health outcomes and the regeneration, redevelopment, and repurposing of canal infrastructure. It also provides the first evidence of its kind that can now be used to shape policy and future investment decisions by the canal and river operators, local authorities, and governments.
Joe FitzPatrick, Minister for Public Health, Sport and Wellbeing said: “Access to outdoor space for recreation and physical activity is essential for our health and wellbeing.
“Scotland’s canals are a great asset and I welcome this research from Glasgow Caledonian University that suggests that canal regeneration in North Glasgow has been associated with a positive impact on health, health inequalities and a long-term reduction in mortality rates for communities living nearby.”
Today, 55% of the global population lives in urban areas, a proportion that is expected to increase to 68% by 2050. In Scotland, 1.5 million people live within 3km of a canal.
Sebastien Chastin, Professor in Health Behaviour Dynamics at Glasgow Caledonian University who led the research, said: “The world is becoming increasingly urban and this poses serious challenges, not only for our health but also the climate. Most cities in the world are built around water whether this is canals, rivers or coasts and these blue spaces are underused assets for public health.
“Our research focused on North Glasgow as this is one of the areas in Europe with a unique concentration of health issues and health inequalities. Furthermore, 18 years ago the waterways around Glasgow were entirely derelict and so we were able to track their effect on local people, from full disuse to full regeneration over almost two decades.
“This study demonstrates that urban blue spaces when they are developed, invested in and properly managed can have a substantial impact on population health around the world as the model is replicable in most cities elsewhere.”
Countries across Europe have called for the repurposing and redeveloping the large and dense network of urban waterways across European cities to create attractive environments.
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Catherine Topley, CEO of Scottish Canals, said: “Scotland’s canals have been transformed over the past 20 years thanks to public and private sector investment, creating significant economic value in the form of new houses, jobs and business growth.
“Canal authorities around the world, from the United States to China and Europe, have all been trying to understand the relationship between regenerating our inland waterways and people’s health. We are delighted that Scotland now has the knowledge which can be exported to colleagues internationally, demonstrating once again that Scotland’s canals are at the forefront of innovation,” she commented.
It is hoped that recreation and physical activity will be encouraged, fostering social interactions and stimulating business investment and tourism.
Gillian Docherty OBE, CEO at The Data Lab, said: “Scotland’s canals offer a variety of unique health benefits to those living nearby, and for economically disadvantaged communities across the country where health inequality is an urgent issue, the regeneration of these disused urban blue spaces is vital as the data science produced from the recent research demonstrates.
“Not only can these findings inform canal authorities about how best to invest in regeneration in order to deliver the biggest improvement in health among local people living close to canals in Scotland, but they can also be adopted by authorities globally, making this unique research the first of its kind.
She said: “We’re proud to be involved in this groundbreaking project and look forward to witnessing how these initial findings can pave the way for future urban blue space regeneration in the years to come. It is another fantastic example of data being used as a force for good.”